Defense establishment favors Rafael tank protection system

Rafaels system is less advanced than IMIs Iron Fist, but it is at a more advanced stage of development.

52 IDF Merkava tanks were damaged during the war against Hizbullah in Lebanon. 50 tanks were hit by anti-tank missiles and two were damaged by roadside bombs, according to the Ministry of Defense Merkava tank program administration.

One lesson from the war is need to quickly provide Merkava tanks with active protection systems able to destroy incoming missiles. The Merkava tank program administration and IDF Ground Forces Command, which is responsible for weapons procurement, are monitoring two active protection systems for armored fighting vehicles: Israel Military Industries Ltd.s (IMI) Iron Fist, and Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd.s Trophy.

A senior defense establishment source told Globes, Although development of Iron First has made very good progress over the last two years, it is far less developed than Rafaels Trophy system. On the other hand, the potential of IMIs system is much greater than that of Rafaels system.

The Merkava tank program administration believes that, were it not for the risk of a new war, it might be better to wait for testing of Iron Fist to be completed, because it is considered more advanced. In order to create a critical mass of tanks able to deal with the threat of anti-tank missiles, one to two brigades (200 tanks) need to be equipped with active protection systems, at a cost of at least $100 million.

According to Merkava tank program administration figures, missiles penetrated 22 tanks, killing 23 crewmen. The missiles in these cases were heavy Russian-made RPG 29, Kornet E, Metis-M, and Concourse missiles, used by Hizbullah. These are tandem missiles, with a double warhead that can penetrate the Merkavas reactive armor and steel plates 70-90 cm thick. Tests conducted on the damaged tanks indicated that Hizbullah had full information needed to identify the Merkavas weak spots. 18 of the damaged tanks were the most modern Merkava Mark IV. Eight of the tanks were still serviceable, despite being hit.

The Merkava tank program administration said five of the damaged tanks cannot be returned to service, including two Merkava Mark II and one Mark III. The two tanks damaged by roadside bombs were a Mark II and Mark IV, which will not be returned to operational use. The Mark IV tank was equipped with underside armor, which prevented a large number of casualties among its seven-man crew; only the one soldier was killed.

18 of the 23 crewmen killed were in five tanks hit, half of them in clashes in Wadi Salouki. The Merkava tank program administration noted that when counting the tank casualties, it should be taken into account that some of the tanks hit were carrying additional troops in addition to their four-man crews, which increased the potential casualties. The tanks protected 90% of the soldiers they were carrying.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on August 30, 2006

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2006

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